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Designer Babies

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Designer Babies

How fertility clinics in Virginia are creating designer babies…

It’s no secret that the field of genetic engineering already boasts the technology to engineer ‘perfect’ babies free from ailments or disease, modified to possess talents and traits specifically chosen by the parents. However the politics surround such an unnatural birth process are still holding back the technique from uncontrollable misuse, and quite rightly so.

In 2006, a Californian company announced that it could screen embryos to select hair and skin color. Not surprisingly, the company was quick to withdraw its announcement amidst public protest.

designer baby1 Designer Babies

How Fertility Clinics Make Designer Babies

More recently fertility clinics in the U.S have taken a softer approach, offering the chance to screen for diseases and gender. The most effective screening test to date, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), involves screening chromosomes from one or two of the embryo’s cells for abnormalities. Depending on the results, the IVF embryo is either implanted in the mother, donated for research or destroyed.

But now, a privately run Genetics IVF Institute in Virginia has developed a new test to compare the genetic maps of parents and embryos in order to detect 15,000 known genetic disorders.

The test, known as karyomapping, could also be used to choose traits including intelligence or skin color. But that’s not how the company is promoting the new procedure.

Three Ways Babies Are Born To Specification

  • Stop Hereditary Diseases Parents with a family history of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy have a significant chance of passing the gene mutation that causes the disease on to their children. PGD can screen embryos for those conditions. It can also screen for genes that don’t guarantee illness, but which are associated with higher risks of breast and colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Choose Gender A 2006 survey conducted by the Genetics and Public Policy Center found almost half of U.S. fertility clinics offered non-disease-related sex selection through PGD embryo screening. A new technique in clinical trials may offer a less expensive method. Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use in cattle, the new method analyzes sperm instead of embryos and uses color and fluorescence to sort male chromosomes from larger female ones.
  • Preparing Stem Cells Parents with children who suffer from leukemia or anemia and who could benefit from stem cell treatment can order up a sibling with the right genetic material. DNA from an embryo is analyzed to find a human leukocyte antigen gene match between an embryo and the child. Nine months later, when the baby is born, the stem cells are retrieved from umbilical cord blood.

Despite the seemingly controlled approach to the new trend that is designer babies, the ethic behind such a process will always be questionable. Elizabeth Ginsburg, the former president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, said:

“The future of genetic screening will really depend on what people want…

“If that means creating so-called designer babies , we’re going to need a lot more regulation.”


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